My son had food crumbs on his face. Absent-mindedly, I began wiping them off in the presence of others who were just feet away. Apparently, this was quite embarrassing for him. Of course, I didn’t mean to embarrass my child. In fact, I thought it would be more embarrassing for him to walk around school with crumbs on his face, but his look of disdain caused me to take pause and think of my actions. How would I like it if someone started wiping my face in front of my friends? My honest answer was, I wouldn’t.
I think of myself as a respectful parent. I honor my children as valuable human beings and do my best to treat their minds, bodies, and spirits with respect, and yet I realize that there have been many times when I have unintentionally disrespected their personal space. Let’s look at some of the common practices most parents do that we generally don’t think twice about.
Wiping Hands and Faces Without Warning
It would feel bazaar to say to a baby “I’m going to wipe the milk off your chin now” or to a toddler, “Your hands are sticky. I’m going to clean them with this wet wipe.” We usually wipe them clean without permission or often warning, but isn’t this rather rude? When I consider how I would feel if perhaps a waiter came up to me at a restaurant and wiped my face abruptly, I cringe. We wouldn’t dream of disrespecting an adult in such a way, but it is common practice in how we relate to children.
Scooping Them Up and Away
There have been countless times I have swooped in and scooped up my children without so much as a whisper of caution. Come to think it of it now, it probably gave them quite a fright! I can no longer do this because they’re half grown, but when they were little and light, I would scoop them up and away from undesirable objects and predicaments or just casually pick them up for a snuggle, and they never saw it coming.
Smacks, Slaps and Spankings
Still very common practices, many parents smack little hands away from outlets or hot stoves. They slap legs and spank bottoms to deter unwanted behavior, but these common methods disrespect a child’s body and dignity. While many still argue that the occasional smack or spanking is a necessary tool in child-rearing, I believe all humans have the right to protect their own bodies and that we send a dangerous message by violating this right with our young ones.
Tickles, Hugs and Kisses
I believe strongly in showing affection to our children, and I’m not going to assert that we must ask permission every time we want to hug them. What I am suggesting is that we be aware of the cues our children give us and know when to ask and when to back off. One of my children loves hugs but not kisses. Another despises tickling. I think it shows our children respect when we honor their wishes regarding tickling and affection and allow them to have a voice. Relatedly, it is quite common to expect children to hug and kiss family members they may not know well or feel comfortable with, and I think it is good idea to give children the option of a handshake or high-five in those situations.
Honoring Children by Giving Them a Voice
We can honor our children and show respect by starting when they are babies. Though it may feel silly at first, voice what you are doing as you change a diaper or wipe them down. I know they will not understand your words early on, but your gentle, respectful demeanor will be communicated nonetheless. As they grow, give warning before you pick them up, and explain why they mustn’t touch the outlet or get so near the stove. Point out the smudges on their faces and hand them a wipe, allowing them to take charge of keeping their bodies clean. Offer hugs and kisses often but never force them, and allow them the opportunity to say “no” to tickling and affection. Give them a voice by teaching them to say “Please don’t do that to me” or “I’d prefer a high-five, Uncle Jim.” Children are valuable, whole human beings from the beginning. Giving them the message “you are worthy of respect” from day one tells them they are safe with us and that we value them as people.
This article was originally published by Boston Parents Paper.